From searching out sea stars in the tide pools in Malibu to hiking in the Santa Monica mountains and spelunking in caves, LA is bursting with nature for kids to explore. Lil Bellies, an online shop created by an adventurous LA mom, is the perfect stop to outfit your adventures with explorers’ gear made for kids. Scroll down for our favorite all natural tips, treks and tools from this inspirational family.

The Backstory
Claudia Didomenico is an LA mom of three, but she grew up on a small farm in Brazil riding horses bareback and going on adventures in neighboring fields. Those memories are some of her most precious treasures, so naturally she wanted a similar experience for her own kids. Living in a big urban city, like LA, the biggest hurdle Claudia noticed was the lack of freedom. “These days, even living in the suburbs, children can’t run free, explore or climb the few trees on the streets unsupervised. So I took it upon myself to take them to places where precious memories could be built and where they could grow up with the freedom to explore, create, discover and connect with the natural world surrounding them,” Claudia explains. “Nature settings are the best playground for children of all ages and one with endless possibilities of amazement and growth.”

Lil Bellies Helps Kids Explore
The idea behind Claudia’s company, Lil Bellies, is to inspire kids and parents and help them explore nature in a fun and exciting way. The company is dedicated to fostering the importance of nature in kids’ lives. Lil Bellies offers all kinds of adorable tools and items kids can use in their explorations, from journals to magnifying glasses. With a hand-painted Audubon Bird Caller Necklace, young bird watchers can sing along with the birds they spy. (It’s become our go-to birthday gift for kids!)

The beautiful Wooden Magnifying Lens is a little explorer must-have for studying plants and insects on a hike, or in your own backyard and young writers will be inspired just looking at the cute design on the Field Pocket Notebook and the twig pencil that comes with it.

The online shop also features nature-inspired books for kids and grown-ups, and adorable enamelware cups and dishes (perfect for picnics or camping) based on ones from Claudia’s own childhood.

Getting The Kids Inspired
The trick to getting screen-obsessed tots to actually love the outdoors and look forward to it, is by engaging them constantly and sparking curiosity, Claudia says. Here are a few tips she shared for getting your little ones to want to explore, to be wild, and free:

*When we “hike” the kids are the leaders and they set the pace. It is not about how far we walk, but how much we can discover and notice while taking even a few steps. (Discover some of our favorite hikes for kids.)

*I often have an activity such as craft planned ahead. Children sometimes need some guidance or encouragement to step away from parents and go explore. We might make memory sticks, a garland, or a crown, but we always only use what is available to us there. If we are learning how to build a shelter, or a fairy house, the children are responsible for finding all the necessary materials to complete the project. This forces them to really look and walk around.

*Bring your tools for exploring: magnifying lens, compass, nature guides, journal, flashlight, binoculars, etc. These will help you inspire your children to look closely at a bug, a bird, or a flower that crosses your path. When they ask about something they saw, have your guides with you and look it up together.

*Come with plenty of snacks, water and a first aid kit. When my kids are hungry they never want to learn, talk or pretty much do anything else but complain!

*When choosing a spot to go for a hike or nature walk, make sure it has exciting places to play for the kids. Usually places where there is a creek, lots of trees, flowers, rocks to skip, or waterfalls. These places are the ones that will inspire wonder and make them want to come back.

*One thing I’ve learned is that when we hike on the weekend to a crowded spot, the kids are less likely to observe anything but what other people are doing. When planning a family outing, choose a place further away, maybe one that isn’t too popular. Los Angeles has tons of secret spots where we hardly see anyone and where you can find a nice quiet place to sit and appreciate nature. One of our favorites is Charmlee Wilderness Park in Malibu.

*Teach kids about taking safety precautions. I tell my kids that when we are in nature, we must be respectful and aware. Rattle snakes, ticks, poison oak, and stinging nettle are all around us and making sure your littles can recognize them and know what to do when they find them is important.

Now Claudia’s kids crave those escapes to nature and so can yours. For more inspiration check out Lil Bellies Instagram feed and follow along on their adventures.

What are your kids favorite places in LA to explore nature? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Shahrzad Warkentin

All photos by Lil Bellies.